I have a confession to make: I have never played Halo until recently. Being as I review video games for a living (okay, for fun), this is a bit like being a fantasy magazine publisher who has never read Tolkien. Purchasing a copy of The Master Chief Collection, I decided to correct that oversight.
Still, Halo is one of the most successful video games of all time and I was eager to see what it had going for it. I tried to keep my expectations reasonable, though, due to the fact it was a game originally published in 2001. Even if the graphics were updated in 2011, there were probably a lot of anachronisms.
So, what did I think?
|I love the design of the Halos. They're elegant in their simplicity.|
The premise of the game, if it needs explanation, is the human race is under assault by the Covenant. The Covenant is a Taliban-esque theocracy which only barely comprehends the technology it has recovered from the mysterious Forerunner race. For reasons which are only alluded at in the game but followed up in the Expanded Universe, they are engaged in a genocidal war against humanity and have destroyed their colony world of Reach.
Chasing their sole-surviving spaceship down, the Covenant forces and human survivors accidentally stumble upon a massive Forerunner super-structure in the shape of a ring. Awakening the Master Chief, a super-soldier in power armor, they send him out to hold off the Covenant long enough to crash land on the 'Halo' space station and discover its secrets.
|The interior of the ring is gorgeous to look at and a triumph of Microsoft design.|
The books of Eric Nylund eventually filled in a great deal of the backstory for the series with things like the Spartan program, Doctor Halsey, and Reach all being detailed at length in his trilogy about the events of the game but none of is this is necessary. It's stuff which I heartily recommend and will be reviewing but the story stands perfectly fine on his own. Just enough information is given to let the player fill in all of the blanks themselves without feeling lost or confused by events. This is a shooter which manages to balance world-building, story, and gameplay like an expert juggler without diminishing any of the three.
|Cortana is one of my favorite characters in video games. Probably 7 or 8 on the list.|
Now even the updated graphics for the Anniversary Edition are a little long in the tooth when viewed up-close but there's some truly breathtaking vistas spread throughout this game. The choice to make the surface of the space station lush, green, and beautiful rather than an empty barren technopolis. Every design choice is entertaining with Cortana, in particular, being an iconic girl of gaming now. The music for the game is great, too, with the mixture of rock, heavy metal, and orchestra blending together surprisingly well.
|The Flood are terrifying as well as cartoony. Not an easy balance to strike.|
Guilty Spark is an amazingly entertaining character and a source of great comic relief. Even the Covenant mooks have plenty of personality with the Grunts cowardice, the Jackals' sneakiness, and the Elite's proud warrior race attitudes all coming from their actions in-game. I approve of the fact the mooks aren't just generic warriors in this game and that adds to the feeling the game is serious but not too serious if that makes sense.
|I will say everyone hates the Warthog, though.|
The level design for Halo cannot be understated in terms of its artistry. You fight in jungles, swamps, alien temples, and more. While the original game's graphics had to be necessarily dark for graphics limitations, the Anniversary Edition brightens them up to something glorious. You can also see what the original Halo looked like just by tapping the start key. While not an open-world game, per se, it's still very open with almost everything you see able to be interacted with. Quite the accomplishment in 2001 and still impressive today.
|This game definitely sold itself to me as a series. Kudos, Microsoft.|
Since I had such a great time playing it, I'm going to be doing Halo month for the month of April and analyzing all of the games in the series as well as some of the choicer bits of Expanded Universe fiction. I hope people enjoy it as much as I have.