Halo: Combat Evolved | Developer: Bungie | Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios | Year: 2001
Halo: Combat Evolved Xbox NTSC-U Box Art

Halo: Combat Evolved

Halo is the beating heart of the Xbox brand, and no blog series about Xbox games would be complete without paying it homage. Even though the console lost billions of dollars competing with PlayStation 2, the original Halo: Combat Evolved was an app so killer, it almost single-handedly assured Microsoft’s future success in the marketplace. Since 2001, Halo has grown into an acclaimed franchise of huge sequels and spin-offs, with significant crossover into other media. There’s also an official app whose wealth of custom playlists and achievement trackers make the Halo games a lifestyle choice nowadays. It’s massive.

Now, I’ve done an extensive retrospective on Halo: Combat Evolved before, and it was also my game of the year in 2002. I’ve spent enough time covering the franchise’s historic run, so in this post I’m discussing the little intricacies and memories I have about the game itself.

So much of it is muscle memory at this point. I played Halo: Combat Evolved again recently in split-screen coop. My brother and I cruised through each Legendary mission like old veterans, exploring the incredible 3D world in ways that have become second nature. When the Warthog jeep appears shortly into the second mission, he ascends the gunner position as I hop behind the wheel. We do this in complete silence; two players perfectly in sync with styles so enthusiastically shared, verbal communication is barely needed any more. Like I said, Halo has become a way of life.

I distinctly remember a time before this though. I remember exploring that second map (simply called “Halo”) on launch day. This was also my first time using dual analogue sticks on a video game controller. My brain hadn’t adapted to the format yet, so driving that jeep made for a bumpy ride. There is a moment further along when players must jump a gap with the jeep. This barely even registers as an obstacle to me any more, but in 2002 I was still struggling to keep the vehicle straight. After crashing into every wall in the adjoining tunnel, I drove that jeep straight off the incline and into the depths below. I needed more practice to earn my title of designated driver!

Halo: Combat Evolved fulfilled a preference I’d long held for vehicle sections. Drivable cars and bikes had existed in video games long before this, but I liked the rare cases where a character could enter vehicles independently, as opposed to them being perpetually locked into the driver’s seat. The jeeps and tanks players commandeer in Capcom’s arcade shooter Mercs were always a fun example, with the Grand Theft Auto series later building entire games from this exact concept. You can’t argue with GTA!

Owing to its groundbreaking physics engine and weightiness of control, Halo: Combat Evolved encourages inquisitiveness. Every map begs the question, “what happens if I do this?”, leading to another fun glitch being discovered, or another Warthog jump crazier than the last. Video games of immense quality will always have ferociously devoted fans eager to break them apart for secrets, and developer Bungie very much leaned into that aspect over the years.

Games magazines dedicated their pages to daydreaming about all the places Halo could go next. What if Master Chief could give the marines orders? What if he could pilot those drop ships or yank an enemy out of the cockpit? Countless things everyone would naturally fantasise about in a sandbox of such potential. I’m still amazed by how clever the enemies are. If Bungie had somehow squeezed these AI bots into the already superb multiplayer mode, it would have been another dream come true, and a few more industry awards to add to their collection, no doubt.

Halo 1 Gameplay Screenshot

The Covenant are notable for their somewhat wacky personality and deep voice bank of battlefield quips.

The straightforward campaign objectives and short cutscenes keep the pace up, and a few recycled level assets or occasionally repetitive hallways don’t change that. Although, The Library mission is still miserable, and I’d be tempted to instate a new rule: if anyone sticks up for The Library now; they’re forced to immediately play it!

There was a time when Halo was my favourite thing in video gaming. After Halo 4 disappointed, Dark Souls would eventually replace it as my monolithic franchise of choice. In truth, I got tired following the release of Halo: Reach, whose campaign mode I don’t think lived up to the hype. I avoided both Halo 5: Guardians and Halo: Infinite, though now 343 Industries is winding down duties, I wonder whether a new Halo experience on a smaller scale could regain my attention. Time will tell.

Sometimes I wonder if Bungie felt the Richard Yates curse in having made their best work (of this series anyway) first, and being pressured to meet people’s expectations every sequel thereafter. It couldn’t have been easy.

Now though, more than 20 years later, the simple fact yet remains; everything about Halo: Combat Evolved (except maybe for its stupid subtitle) is still really damn good.