We’ve now been through over a decade of Halo and though there have been longer running franchises the timing of the Halo series has led it to it being a sort of constant in my changing life. This is a brief account of my experience with the series so far.
Halo CE (My wasted youth)
I got my Xbox and Halo the day before I was due to go on a family holiday. For a 16 year old this was a major disaster as I was as I did not want to be going away with my parents and did want to be killing digital aliens. As time was short I knuckled down and managed to complete the campaign while my mum packed in the background. My evening with the Chief turned out to be a wondrous ride through the universe, to zombie hell and back. Somehow this made my upcoming flight to India seem somewhat mundane. In a way I think spending the next three weeks disconnected and reliving the campaign in my head bought me closer to the Jolly Green Cyborg. Little did I know that this would set the tone for the longest gaming affair of my life.
If I close my eyes I can still see flashes of pistols on Hang 'Em High
Halo 2 (My poor back)
By the time Halo 2 was released I was off enjoying myself at university. We’re more used to it now but the lead up to Halo 2 was a major hype machine and I couldn’t wait to get a copy in my hands. I had managed to play a bit of a pre-release build at a games event but I sucked as the controls were default and I play inverted.
Unfortunately I managed to get a fly in my Halo 2 ointment by making the mistake of getting my pre-order sent to my home address some 300 miles away form where I was studying. Rather then wait for my parents to send it over I decided to show some real Spartan fortitude by stuffed my hefty black xbox into a backpack, slinging it over my shoulder and jumping on the first train after class. Needless to say my mum wasn’t impressed when it turned out I hadn’t come home to see her but to lock myself away with Master Chief for the next twelve hours. Once again I completed the campaign in one sitting and spent the morning train back pondering just what the hell a Gravemind was.
Though Halo 2 might not have been the best in the series I liked the storytelling and killing Tartarus on legendary may be my all time Halo highlight.
FYI The Halo 2 Collector Edition has by far the best making of documentaries if you’re a Bungie fan.
Halo 3 (Triumphant return)
So while everyone else was finishing the fight I having just graduated was travelling around Asia. In fact I managed to get an internship in Hong Kong and was living in a box of an apartment which meant not even owning a 360. When I finally got home after the better part of a year I did the required catching up with friends, family and the Chief. In fact it was after getting some catch up drinks with a cousin and spying his 360 under the TV that I rekindled my Halo relationship. As this was about 11pm and after the pub the details of this encounter remain a bit hazy but I do remember sitting alone with a bucket of the colonel‘s finest fried fowl saving humanity.
Maybe it was the residual alcohol but at 8am when Chief uttered those immortal words, "wake me when you need me" it dawned on me that Halo had been part of my life for the better part of a decade and it was finally over. I might have even shed a little tear as for all I knew I wasn’t going to see the Chief again anytime soon. So to make myself feel better I used the instant playback to relive the ending again.
Halo low point: Drunkenly falling of the same ledge twenty times while chewing on a hot wing.
Halo 3: ODST (Well Fire Fight was cool...)
So ODST is the only Halo game I didn’t complete in one siting. I would love to put that down to the nonlinear nature of the hub world but it was probable more to do with it just not being that captivating. I don’t think it was a bad game but I would say one thing, ODSTs are meant to be badass and Buck and friends were kind of lame. I really think they lost an opportunity to get really gritty with the shock troops of the UNSC. As for me well at this point I somehow found myself in law school.
...the music was pretty great too.
Halo Reach (Pure indulgence)
After Halo Wars and ODST it was clear the fight was far from over and the franchise was at risk of being run into the ground. But I trust in Bungie and secretly wanted some more Halo in my life. Reach was famously Bungie’s swan song to the series and following the Bungie blog it definitely felt like they were more than ready to move on. The thing is when I comes to Halo and its game mechanics there is a fine line when it comes to making changes without breaking the game. I liken it to chess. You can’t really change the rules without it becoming a different game. But on the flip side without change Halo started to feel a bit stale. I can imagine for a company like Bungie having your creative hands tied by years of legacy would be frustrating so I don’t blame them for wanting to explore new horizons. I did end up loving the game and in keeping with tradition didn't switch off until Reach was truly lost. But I also came away feeing like the series was done and I think Bungie felt the same way.
I also have one major complaint about Reach to get off my chest. In the Halo mythology the fall of Reach is a big fricking deal! I mean it kicks off the first game and in the book the Covenant discovering the planet spells the end of humanity. How does the game present this pinnacle moment on Reach? How do they reveal this deadly enemy's attack on the UNSC's fortress world? You stumble across a few aliens wondering about on a farm!
On a positive note this was the first game I spent a fair amount of time playing on Xbox Live and the set up was excellent. I had actually moved to the Netherlands at this point and while all those crazy Dutch were playing FIFA I was holding the line by fragging homophobic children online.
Halo 4 (New horizons)
After Reach I was not impressed when Halo 4 was announced as I was convinced the series was suffering form some serious diminishing returns. Without Bungie at the helm there was also the fear that my fond memories would be tarnished by iterative sequels fuelled by corporate greed. I mean who was this 343 Industries that had taken custody of my beloved constant. I think at one point I even convinced myself that I would refuse to buy the game or even acknowledge its existence. But alas the reviews are out and apparently its quite awesome :)
I haven’t played the game yet but now that my fears have been alleviated I think Bungie passing the torch may be the best thing for Halo's future. It looks like 343 is taking the risks that Bungie wasn’t able to and so far they seem to have pulled it off.
Well I’m definitely a grown up now (I work on tax and financial regulation for the government if you must know) but it looks like I will be continuing to use Master Chief's exploits to take stock of my life every few years. Actually by the time this new trilogy is done I’ll be well into my 30s so it’ll be growing old with Halo.
But there’s plenty of time for reflection later. For now I’ve taken the day off work and may even get some chicken in.