Halo 5: Guardians is here! It has been a long time since I’ve been excited for a new entry into the Halo series. Throughout the years, each new installment of Halo was built on its already successful story, gameplay, and split-screen playability. Since the Master Chief Collection was plagued with bugs and broken promises, I never had a chance to play all the games back-to-back. With Halo 5: Guardians release, this is the perfect time to revisit the Halo series.
After I complete each game, I will write a blog post about my memories, experiences and new opinions as I replay this beloved series. This blog post series begins with one of my favorite First-Person Shooter (FPS) games ever made: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.
Memories Never Forgotten
Halo: Combat Evolved was released on November 15, 2001. When I saw its trailer for the first time, I was not impressed because the video game was featured on the Xbox; a console that I was not familiar with during the time. I was far more interested in my GameCube and Playstation 2 than the VCR-sized Xbox.
A couple years later, my brother purchased an Xbox. This surprised me since it broke from our norm when purchasing video game consoles. We were heavily involved with Nintendo products until he purchased the Playstation 2 in college. When he told me he bought an Xbox, I did not give it much thought until he hyped up a game called Halo: Combat Evolved. He mentioned that we could play co-op split-screen like we did when we played Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64 (which is one of my fondest video game memories). Within two days, my brother and I decimated Halo: Combat Evolved; it was the best co-op experience we shared, second only to Perfect Dark.
When I look back on our playthrough, something alarming came to mind: I could not remember a majority of the story! The weapons, controls, and level design were easy to remember, but major plot-points and key-scenes eluded me. I know the game was critiqued heavily on its design for rehashing levels, but it never bothered me (I blame nostalgia).
After playing Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary for a few minutes, each corridor felt like deja vu. I knew where weapons and enemies spawned, as well as which objectives needed completion. Nothing surprised me as much as I wanted, but remembering the level design did bring back memories of the time my brother and I played together (nostalgia, how I loathe you). Two missions that I remembered perfectly were The Pillar of Autumn and The Library; both for different reasons and emotions.
The Pillar of Autumn
“Escape intact as Covenant forces board your ship.”
The Pillar of Autumn is the first campaign level in Halo: Combat Evolved. This is where the protagonist, John-117 (aka Master Chief), wakes up to kick some ass. When Master Chief awakens from his cryo-sleep, players must test his x- and y-axis while thinking, “Wait, are there not enemies attacking our ship right now?”
If you ever played a FPS, you know a tutorial is included. Video games manuals were a thing of the past, give us in-game tutorials to speed things along. Perfect Dark has a free-roaming mode where the player can stimulate tutorials in its combat simulator, but Halo: Combat Evolved was different. Master Chief is thrown into battle where the player has little knowledge of this ship, the controls and mass-chaos that ensues.
I was impressed that I could remember this entire ship. I knew where the ship’s commander, Captain Jacob Keyes, was and where I would first meet the lovely Cortana. Each non-player character (NPC) recognized me and were shocked to see the Master Chief. I felt empowered, almost God-like! This tutorial campaign level was exhilarating the first time I played it, just as it is today. I will never forget my very first moments in Halo: Combat Evolved.
“Fight your way through an ancient security facility in search of the index.”
I remember The Library for different, more cynical reasons. The story and enemies found here induced my fear and hatred for the level. The level begins when 343 Guilty Spark, a tiny robotic artificial intelligence (AI) who monitors the Halo ring, teleports Master Chief into the Library of Installation 04. This is the first meeting with the horrifying Flood, and Master Chief must battle wave after wave to reach the Index chamber. This is basically hell for Master Chief and me.
I absolutely hate the Flood. Not as a character per se, but as the fear-inducing, frustrating factor that they can be. These enemies are eerily similar to flesh-eating zombies where parasites latch onto a host and turn them into a monster. While the human-looking forms of the Flood infection are scary enough, the pure infection form is the worst. These small, repulsive parasites make disgusting noise that sends shivers up my spine. They are roughly 3 feet in height with small tentacles that latch onto their host (fear knows no bounds as seen in my drawing below).
I died numerous times on this level just as I did when my brother and I attempted it. The Flood swarmed us and made it nearly impossible to move to the next checkpoint. If we died before reaching the next checkpoint, we had to make a 10 minute trek to reach the same place where we died. I was frustrated while attempting this level by myself because I had no one watching my back. Luckily on this playthrough, the Flood did not swarm me as much, but their weaponry and random grenades on the ground made for some epic dying and raging. This is one of the worst and best levels in Halo: Combat Evolved because I believe the developers wanted me to feel fear and hate.
My Simple Experience
After my nostalgia took a backseat in the Warthog (yeah, I went there), new experiences were in my sights. Two progressive story elements emerged: length and simplicity. The campaign consists of 10 levels that spread across two different ships and a Halo ring; when I put it that way, Halo: Combat Evolved sounds quite limited.
The first ship Master Chief traveled in is called the Pillar of Autumn. After a chase (barely discussed by the game), it emerged from Slipspace (basically, traveling the speed-of-light with a hyperdrive) and its crew discovered a giant Halo ring floating in space. Master Chief woke up just as the Covenant, an alien species who despises humans, attacked the Pillar of Autumn. Master Chief escaped with his lovely AI, Cortana, and reached the surface of the Halo ring. From there, Master Chief, his allies, the Covenant and Cortana began to unwrap the mysteries surrounding Halo ring.
The story of Halo: Combat Evolved is one of the simplest, and the level design is even simpler. Basically, Master Chief goes from Point A to Point B to Point C back to Point B then point C and finally Point A. These three major areas in the entire game are below:
Point A: The Pillar of Autumn
Point B: Installation 04 (the Halo ring)
Point C: The Truth and Reconciliation (the Covenant ship)
This simplification of each location and its story does not lessen the video game’s prestige. I remembered being enthralled in a massive universe where no one could touch me. I was Master Chief, a God-like man who shows no mercy. While my replay showed a smaller sample of the Halo series, its story and location was straight to the point. I believe this straightforwardness is missing from many video games today. Each year, I notice how little time I have for video games and if a game was as straightforward as Halo: Combat Evolved, I could finish more games. The main statement that rings true to me is this: “Go here and accomplish your mission.” I am okay with this simple task to progress the campaign like it did in Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Master Chief is a soldier with orders to follow, and I will let him lead me to our next adventure.
It has been years since I played Halo: Combat Evolved, and now that I am older, I can form more thoughtful and meaningful opinions (strange how that happens with age). It still blows my mind to know how well this game lives up to today’s standards. The fact I could transition between the original graphics and the new, improved high-definition (HD) version is wonderful.
I switched between graphics often throughout my playthrough. While I believe the new HD version is extraordinary, it does not compare to the original. I was constantly getting lost in the HD version and usually had to switch to the original to find the linear path. At times, the new HD graphics melted together where I kept confusing corridors, doors, columns and walls for the same exact thing. Everything was incredibly metallic, bright and modern.
For example, during The Truth and Reconciliation and The Silent Cartographer levels, I was lost in the HD version, retracing my steps multiple times. When I changed to the original graphics, I could find my way again because the path was easy to see. The ground was green and the walls were brown (straightforward, I know). The main issue was that the HD graphics distracted me from my objectives; jumping between the graphic settings was a timesaver.
One last thought plagued me during my playthrough: it was quiet, too quiet. This has nothing to do with the game sounds or environmental cues, but mainly my focus was on Cortana. She was nearly speechless, which seemed odd since she was in my helmet. 343 Guilty Spark talked more in his level than Cortana did in the entire game.
The reason this is so surprising to me now is because I am used to having someone in my ear, telling me about the mission or making witty remarks. Two great examples of this are Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Destiny.
In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, anytime the Boss was sent on a mission, you could access his codec to communicate with someone back at your base. If you were not sure what to do, call your teammates via the codec to get a mission update or information on specific items. It was really helpful and informative having someone guide me along each mission. Destiny is similar since you had a Ghost with you at all times. This tiny, reliable AI revives you, tell you when trouble is near and made remarks while completing missions. At times, his jokes were dry and too robotic, but they always stuck by your side (everything changes when a Ghost is retired; I miss you Dinklebot).
Cortana’s silence did not ruin the game, but it showed how video games have evolved. Having that helping hand can create a relationship so strong that you might not know what to do if you lost them. Will I be lost forever? Who will tell me enemies are approaching? Where is my objective? Thankfully, I know Cortana is talkative in late installments.
Halo: Combat Evolved is still an incredible video game and will go down being one of the best in the FPS genre. From its characters, fear-inducing creatures, and simple story/level design, it needs to be considered for all FPS-enthusiasts. It makes me happy that my brother introduced me to Halo and video games before it. I will never forget my cherished and new memories from Halo: Combat Evolved.
Below is a video of me breaking the game! I hope you enjoy!