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Halo: Combat Evolved

The oddly named "Halo: Combat Evolved" showed signs that it had trouble defining what game it should be. Its large maps and the way your character is dropped in an existing battle playfield often made it feel more like a Real-Time Strategy game.

This, combined with its seemingly low-gravity ragdoll physics, made me remember the Myth games previously developed by Bungie. There seems to have been a "flip" from 3rd-party RTS to FPS later in development that retained some of its earlier style in some of the levels. Maybe the "Halo" style of game was a consequence of its RTS roots.

You can almost feel what levels were designed after Halo became a FPS game. Those levels are smaller, more linear corridors, with no vehicles available. Those later FPS levels also show some uneasiness about moving to a new 3D game engine, with too many repeated corridors and rooms, effectively turning many of them into mazes. The enhanced graphics of the Master Chief Collection have added visual markers that make those maze-like environments more straightforward.

Halo 2

The simpler named "Halo 2" not only solidified Halo’s identity as a franchise but might have been the most ambitious video game sequel ever made for the same video game console. The only game sequel I can think of that had such a jump would be between Super Mario 2 (Japan’s version) and Super Mario 3. Halo 2 adds many gameplay elements, like dual-wielding weapons, playing as an alien character with stealth mechanics, moving vehicle structures you can climb on and into, and much more. Its cutscenes are cinemaitc and epic action scenes. Almost every level is in a visually distinct environment.

Put simply, I preferred Halo 2 over CE is every possible way, in addition to be marvelled at its technical achievements. It also has the most references to the Marathon games. While I don’t think it’s the best Halo game, I think it’s the most "groundbreaking" one in the series.

It may also be the most fondly remembered Halo game. This was a time where Halo was a "system seller", meaning that some people bought an Xbox only to play Halo games and nothing else. This could be as a result of games being more expensive, Halo's rich environment for online multiplayer games, cooperative game mode for all campaign levels (including local co-op on a single TV screen), a level editor, the "skulls" that can tweak the campaign level experience with gameplay modifications, and a gameplay style that favors experimentation and multiple replays. And while I can't share in that nostalgia, I can still see why Halo 2 is a classic.

Published on May 11, 2024 at 11:10 EDT

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