Revolutionary. It’s a word that is thrown around way too much, but it’s also the very definition of what Halo: Combat Evolved was to the gaming world as a whole upon its release in 2001. Before Halo, First Person Shooters were, at best, a niche genre of videogames in a market dominated by platforming mascots like Mario, Sonic and Crash Bandicoot. Before Halo, online competitive multiplayer was reserved for PC gamers and wasn’t even a pipe dream for console users. Before Halo, the world was different. But now things have changed.
It was a blessing and a curse playing Halo: Reach before the original IP that kicked off the franchise. It gave me a bit of experience before trying my hand at a significantly more challenging game. It piqued my interest in the series as a whole. It gave me the background of the despicable lengths The Covenant would go to in order to fulfill their twisted prophecy of galaxian domination and the end of the human race. But it also gave me a much more polished, varied, and wholesome experience that I was left yearning for throughout my time in Combat Evolved.
It’s easy to see why the original Halo was so beloved during its time. The battles are challenging and frantic, the enemies original and dangerous, and the relationship between the digital Cortana and the Solid Snake-esque Master Chief was intriguing. The concept of being stuck on a foreign world (or ring, if you will) and fighting to survive as everything goes to hell around you is a good one, and the somewhat varied number of vehicles and weapons were fun to experiment with as players attempted to survive The Covenant and Flood and save the human race while simultaneously saving themselves.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of things wrong with Halo that bring down the experience when upon replaying it 15 years removed from its release. Repetitive levels that are each 40+ minutes get tiring fast, and the uneven (and sometimes unfair) checkpoints can be frustrating. Although the narrative is good during the cut-scenes, the levels are so long that it’s easy to forget what you’re fighting for and instead just get into the zone of fire-hide-fire repeat until something happens. Worst of all, many of the levels are maze-like and confusing and a lack of clear direction devoid of quest markers means it’s easy to get lost. Finally, other than Cortana and Master Chief, the supporting cast doesn’t provide any lasting impression, which diminishes attempted emotional moments during the story. I found this quite disappointing after experiencing some excellent, heart-wrenching narrative moments in Halo: Reach.
It’s easy to look back on older games through rose-colored glasses, especially those that spawned epic series that persist for years afterward. Halo: Combat Evolved has clearly received that treatment. It’s definitely worth playing for fans of the series, or even FPS fans in general for its historical significance, frantic action, and occasional high points. But those looking for a masterpiece should be prepared for disappointment.