I have never liked the Halo series. So, why do I have hundreds of hours into these games, and why do I feel the urge to keep playing them? I want to explore why I hate Halo beyond “I hate them, because they suck.” This would be disingenuous, and the series deserves more respect than that.
We have to go to the beginning. Halo: Combat Evolved launched on the original Xbox on November, 15, 2001. Nintendo would release the GameCube a few days later in North America. Sega discontinued their failed Dreamcast earlier that year, and left consoles to other companies. Sony released the Playstation 2 in 2000, and it was selling like hotcakes. During this time, I was in middle school. I could barely afford one new console, let alone multiple. In 2002 or 2003, I took my birthday and Christmas money and bought a Playstation 2. Because of this, I was on the sidelines to the whirlwind that would be the Halo series.
My first introduction to Halo was through friends. A couple of my friends (or their older brothers) had Xboxes. If you had an Xbox, you had Halo: Combat Evolved. My first taste was playing splitscreen multiplayer against my friends. We would trade the controllers and play for hours. Blood Gulch may or may not have been my first map, but it is the one I remember the most. Quickly, I learned I sucked at this game.
Even though I sucked, I could not help but get caught up in the excitement. Other than playing splitscreen, we also had quite a few LAN parties. My friends, their siblings, and their friends would all get together in a basement, and play for hours on end.
I actually did not experience the campaign of Halo until much later. A friend of mine got an Xbox, and invited me over to play through the story.
Halo 2 released in 2004, and we did it again. Splitscreen, LAN parties, coop campaign; the works. You would think we would get sick of it, but in 2007 we did it yet again with Halo 3. This time, we were in high school and had jobs, so even more people had Xbox 360’s, as well as the game. I still did not. I liked being a part of the phenomenon, but I did not like Halo.
I did not like the story of the series back then. Playing as a super soldier who saves the universe seemed cliche. Although it is, I do not think it was the full reason why I did not like the story. Since I did not have an Xbox console for the trilogy, I could only play it cooperatively with a friend. My friend was (and is) a huge Halo fanatic. He loves playing through the campaign on spartan difficulty. I suck at the game, so I want to play on normal difficulty. This was not a fun experience for either of us. He is trying to get through the levels as quick as possible, while I am trying to explore and enjoy the story. He wins, and I lose out on my fun. Because of this, I only remember the cliff notes from the story.
So, I thought the story was cliche, and I really did not enjoy the competitive multiplayer. When the next Halo was announced, I let out a groan. However, I became excited when they revealed information about it. I would play as an ODST instead of Master Chief. It would have a cooperative mode called Firefight. I am a big Gears of War Horde mode fan, so that sounded cool. I bought ODST in 2009. I played Firefight with my friends. I also checked out the campaign – by myself this time. The semi-open world was well done, and served the story. The levels and music oozed with atmosphere. The noir story was great. I had a hard time believing this was a Halo game!
A year later, Bungie released Halo: Reach. I bought the game for the improved Firefight. At this point I stopped playing competitive multiplayer; most of my friends stuck with Halo: 3 for that and I have never owned it on console. I did not play the campaign for Reach.
Over the years, Halo drifted from the spotlight, and with it my mind. The global phenomenon that once was eroded as other games, like Call of Duty, took its place. Bungie moved on, and 343i released a few remasters and sequels. I just did not care.
The Master Chief Collection – Reignited Through Remaster
In 2015 I bought an Xbox One just for Halo: The Master Chief Collection. It looked good, and I wanted to give it another chance. I felt bad for hating it. Maybe I was being hipsterish, and I only hated it because it was popular? Things are definitely different now.
I booted it up and played Halo: CE Anniversary. It went okay. I beat the game, and started Halo 2. I stopped after a few chapters. I was not having fun. I felt like I sucked at the game, because of the controller. I told myself, “If only I could play with a keyboard an mouse!” I got my wish a few years later.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection came to PC a few years later. 343i released each game one at a time as they got them ported. They started with Reach. In 2020 I had Xbox Game pass, and decided to give it a chance. It did not go well. The story felt like it just threw me into the middle of it, and I had no idea what was going on. I fiddled with the keyboard bindings, and could not make anything work well. Worst of all, I died a lot on normal difficulty. I was not having fun, so I stopped.
For some reason I bought the The Master Chief Collection on Steam earlier this year. I restarted Reach, and had same problems. I stopped at almost the same spot as before.
In September, my neighbor invited me to a Halo 2 LAN party on original hardware. I felt I needed to brush up on using the controller. I tried to launch Halo 2 on PC, but I needed to download it. While it downloaded, I continued my Reach playthrough with a controller… and did not stop. I beat Reach, and wanted more so I booted up Halo: CE. I ended up beating it, too!
At this point, I realized why I hated Halo.
I am going to dig deep into the PC versions of Halo: Reach and Halo: CE Anniversary in The Master Chief Collection. I played through both of them recently. I also figured they would be good, because they represent Bungie’s oldest and newest work on the series.
Some die hard fans dislike The Master Chief Collection versions of these games. Overall, they are not the reason why I hate the series. I think the remastered visuals of the Halo: CE look great. I know fans like to nitpick about the visuals, but I had no problem with them. Reach had some audio issues, but they did not ruin my experience. Both games have garbage subtitles, but it is not too big of a deal for me.
Halo’s greatest asset is the music. Marty O’Donnel deserves all the praise he gets for this series. Without his music, the games would lose their atmosphere.
Halo: CE revolutionized how we play first person shooters on consoles. Just look at the manual for Unreal Tournament on the PS2 vs. Halo’s which came out a year later.
Halo’s default control scheme for the analog sticks is unchanged to this day, and is the standard for first person shooters. I have some gripes with playing with a controller; the “X” button does too many things, and I have frequently picked up a weapon when trying to reload. With that being said, these games play best with the controller.
The rumble adds to the feeling of the shooting. The movement, sound effects, and visual feedback all feel good. For some reason, all of this does not feel as good with a keyboard and mouse, and it comes down to design. Bungie deserves a lot of praise for how this game feels with a controller.
Reach and Halo: CE have a good story. The beginning of Reach is rough. MINOR SPOILERS When characters started dying, I became fully invested in the story END SPOILERS. The last couple of hours of the game were great. I loved the ending so much, I starting playing Halo: CE right away. I wanted to play the story Reach setup. Unfortunately, the first game’s story did not grip me like Reach’s. Knowing its development history, it does not surprise me that the story felt rushed. I also felt the game was too long, and padded with unnecessary levels that just had me backtracking through previous levels. The ending cutscene did make me want to boot up Halo 2, but the flaws of Reach and Halo:CE stopped me.
The level design for the two games is either hit or miss. For every “The Silent Cartographer” level, you have “The Library.” Halo is at its best when I felt excited to explore a level; endless corridors did not do that for me.
The AI is weird in these games. The enemies react in a way that makes sense. Elites will charge at you, but start dodging if you fire at them. It is great, but there are other things that are baffling. Enemies can feel like bullet sponges, depending on your weapon.
So far, nothing mentioned here would make me hate an entire series. Throughout my playthroughs, I have always sucked at Halo. Being bad at a game, does not make me hate it though. The problem is I have put several hundred hours into these games and I have not gotten better at the games. I play on normal, and die constantly. I hate these games, because of bullshit moments. These moments have me questioning why I died.
Let me illustrate with one example out of at least a dozen bullshit moments. Near the end of the first Halo game, I died over and over again. At a checkpoint, I would get out of a warthog, and fight a couple of enemies before coming to a bridge. The bridge looks empty, so I run across. Suddenly, flood spawn, and I die. That’s fair. I should have been more cautious. I reload and spend a few minutes getting back to the bridge. This time I am careful and move slowly with my shotgun ready. I notice a pattern. First, some flood spores will spawn, and if you keep going some flood combat forms will spawn. The spores are easy to dispatch, so I take care of them before preceding. I run up so I can shotgun the flood combat forms, and I get overwhelmed and die. That’s fair. Need to be more mindful of dangers. I learned there are three phases on this bridge: 1. Spores spawn, 2. Melee combat forms spawn, and 3. Gun combat forms spawn. I try again. The moments before the bridge are getting frustrating from doing it repeatedly. Get to the bridge. Take out the spores. Inch forward, and wait for the melee combat forms to come to me, and then inch forward again. This time I notice one flood fires a rocket launcher right before he kills me. Alright, I know who is the biggest threat now. Repeat everything. I watch the rocket dude spawn, and peek out of cover. I jump, and his rocket its exactly where I land… I try again, and same fucking result. HOW THE FUCK DID HE SHOOT A ROCKET EXACTLY WHERE I LANDED! THIS IS BULLSHIT!
Finally, I got lucky with a grenade. I threw a grenade behind the cover BEFORE he spawned. I triggered his spawn right as the grenade exploded. This is on normal difficulty. Why the fuck do I have to cheese the AI to get past a section? Again, this is only one example out of at least a dozen across Reach and Halo: CE. I fucking hate this series, because of bullshit moments.
So, I started Halo 2…